Swallowing the Bitterness: Racism & Unspoken Asian-American Pain

Peter Ong has served in New York City for over 20 years, with a passion for mercy and justice focused on engaging the church to serve local immigrant youth. He and his wife, Jamie, planted King’s Cross Church, a congregation of Living Faith Community Church, serving downtown Flushing’s immigrant families. He has also served as the Director of Church Partnerships at Hope For New York. He currently serves as the Ministry Director at Living Faith Community Church, Decadel Plan Adviser at LEAD.NYC, and Community Engagement Facilitator at Redeemer’s City to City. He received his M.A. in Urban Missions from Westminster Theological Seminary through City Seminary of New York. He is a certified Church Multiplication Ministries Coach and works with Redeemer City to City’s training and teach Church Planters in their Incubator Program. 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted as a Facebook post on March 17, 2021 and is being reposted with permission. We hope it will be helpful for those in the Asian American community who are struggling to process recent events and their own experiences of racism. It is also an invitation to non-Asians to understand and respond by seeking God’s mercy and justice with the Asian-American community.

For the Asian American community, the reality is that the intersections of pain and grief are often compounded by shame and silence. We often retreat into spaces of invisibility because it is a canopy in which we have found our ability to manage the pain and dismissal of a world that neither sees nor hears our laments. We are seen as the ones who comply, compromise, and/or are complicit. We are swept over as the two extremes of distortions, of a model minority or yellow peril.

Yet the very church that is to be the body of Christ has often been the very contributor to our invisibility. In leadership, we are often worship leaders or youth pastors, but not in leadership. In national and local conferences, there is rarely an Asian face that represents our diverse voice. 

We are recipients of a double layer of being “othered.” We are not seen as belonging to the marginalized because we are seen as honorary whites. At the same time, to the dominant culture, we are perpetual foreigners. We are not seen as the fullness of the imago Dei, just instruments and functions for the institution, our voices and perspectives willfully ignored.

Exotic. Oriental. Inscrutable. 

Hardworking. Excelling. 

Beautiful almond eyes. 

Sexless. 

Passive. 

Crazy Rich. 

Ivy League.

White adjacent.

China Virus.

I have personally experienced this and often have this lingering insecurity that I am spoken to or treated like this because I am Asian. In the past, a thought bubble would appear–  “would they treat someone of another ethnicity this way?”–  and I would be overly defiant and even violent.

In my years of ministry in NYC to the Asian American community, I have heard so many stories of unspoken pain and trauma. Unacknowledged verbal and physical attacks that go under the expression my mother describes as “swallowing the bitterness.” We find so much unearthed pain that lingers and cauterizes our ability to exhale.

Yet, I stand today. I have a flood of emotions and I am compelled somehow, to pause and reflect on the cross. Christ has the closest proximity to the afflicted because he was afflicted. I seek the wonderful counselor, who doesn’t counsel me out of an abstract and distant manner but who empathizes because he was a recipient of violence.

Today, take a moment to pray and reflect. That is the most powerful way for you to be transformed into the person that God wants you to be. For some, it will be a prayer for the indifference and blindness towards Asian Americans. Then, go and reach out to someone personally beyond virtue signaling on social media and let them know you stand and weep with us. Invite us into carrying this burden with you as we seek God’s hand of mercy and justice.

Reformed Margins

Reformed Margins exists to celebrate the glory of God and exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ among the nations. We pray that this site provides a platform for Reformed Christian thinkers from various ethnic minority backgrounds to join in the broader Reformed and Evangelical conversations.

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